Surrendering curation and promotion

Facebook, Linkedin, Google, Apple and Amazon have very little ability to promote a specific idea or creator.

That sounds crazy, but culturally and technically, it’s true.

In 1995, Oprah got to put just one person as the lead in an episode of her show. That choice was a commitment and a signal. It said to her viewers, “there were many people who could have been on the show today, but I chose this person.”

In 2000, Random House got to pick one book to be their big business title for November. Just one. Their curation sent a message to bookstores, who stocked more copies as a result.

They were curators and their curation led to promotion and attention. There was a cost to picking junk, and a benefit to earning trust.

The tech giants have surrendered that ability, with the costs and benefits that come with it. They end up disrespecting creations and their creators.

It doesn’t matter if you know someone at Google or if Amazon promises that they’re going to heavily promote your new Kindle book. The people who work at these companies don’t have a dial to turn. Amazon is good at selling everything, but they’re terrible at selling a thing.

Apple gets some zing for a recommended podcast now and then, or for a heavily promoted record, but the same rule is generally true with them–98% of all their content is driven by the algorithm, not a human with something at stake. They don’t care which record you pay for, as long as you pay for something.

The platforms are built on the idea that the audience plus the algorithm do all the deciding. No curation, no real promotion, simply the system, grinding away.

This inevitably leads to pandering, a race to the bottom.

Netflix is an exception because they have so much at stake in the investment of their own products that they insist on curating and promoting, bending the algorithm in the direction they wish it to go.

When a site tries to do both (like Buzzfeed), it’s a perilous journey. The metrics and the algorithm will swallow up the best intent of taste and culture making.